November 12, 1940 – Churchill’s Tribute to Neville Chamberlain

On this day in history, Winston Churchill spoke to the British House of Commons on the occasion of the death of Neville Chamberlain.

Neville Chamberlain in 1921

Neville Chamberlain in 1921

Chamberlain, who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from May 1937 to May 1940, is best known for his appeasement foreign policy, and in particular for his signing of the “Munich Agreement” in September, 1938. The Munich Agreement was a settlement conceding Nazi Germany’s annexation of portions of Czechoslovakia along the country’s borders (“The Sudetenland”). Chamberlain believed that this action and acceptance of it by Great Britain would mark the end of Hitler’s aggressive activity.

Chamberlain arrives in Munich, September 1938

Chamberlain arrives in Munich, September 1938

In 1940, no longer having the backing of his party, Chamberlain resigned, and Winston Churchill took his place.

Churchill defended Chamberlain in his eulogy, declaring:

It is not given to human beings, happily for them, for otherwise life would be intolerable, to foresee or to predict to any large extent the unfolding course of events. In one phase men seem to have been right, in another they seem to have been wrong. Then again, a few years later, when the perspective of time has lengthened, all stands in a different setting. There is a new proportion. There is another scale of values.”

He said further, paying tribute to Chamberlain’s devotion to ensuring peace if he could:

It fell to Neville Chamberlain in one of the supreme crises of the world to be contradicted by events, to be disappointed in his hopes, and to be deceived and cheated by a wicked man. But what were these hopes in which he was disappointed? What were these wishes in which he was frustrated? What was that faith that was abused? They were surely among the most noble and benevolent instincts of the human heart-the love of peace, the toil for peace, the strife for peace, the pursuit of peace, even at great peril, and certainly to the utter disdain of popularity or clamour. Whatever else history may or may not say about these terrible, tremendous years, we can be sure that Neville Chamberlain acted with perfect sincerity according to his lights and strove to the utmost of his capacity and authority, which were powerful, to save the world from the awful, devastating struggle in which we are now engaged. This alone will stand him in good stead as far as what is called the verdict of history is concerned.

But it is also a help to our country and to our whole Empire, and to our decent faithful way of living that, however long the struggle may last, or however dark may be the clouds which overhang our path, no future generation of English-speaking folks-for that is the tribunal to which we appeal-will doubt that, even at a great cost to ourselves in technical preparation, we were guiltless of the bloodshed, terror and misery which have engulfed so many lands and peoples, and yet seek new victims still.”

You can read all of his remarks here.

Winston Churchill at his seat in the Cabinet Room at No 10 Downing Street, London

Winston Churchill at his seat in the Cabinet Room at No 10 Downing Street, London

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